By Richard Thomas
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has undergone a surprising degree of evolution since it’s initial release in 2013. Back then it was the unfiltered, cask strength cousin of Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, released in limited quantities two to four times a year. Then Elijah Craig 12 was discontinued roughly a year ago, making the Barrel Proof expression the last resort for that expressions diehard fans.
Now, with the first batch of the year, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is moving in the direction already taken by Booker’s. Although not as romantic as the folksy branding that has accompanied Booker’s in recent times (“Bluegill Creek” and “Booker’s Bluegrass” and such), each EC Barrel Proof release will now be tagged with a code denoting which batch it was from. This first one is A117, which means it was the first of the year (“A”) on January 2017 (“117”).
In the glass, this 127 proof (63.5% ABV) bourbon is a brown-leaning, dark amber. The swish puts a good coat on the glass, but one that streams heavy legs.
I found that this whiskey stubbornly refused to open up as is, even with plenty of breathing time. Since it was over 120 proof, and that usually demands some water anyway, I put in a healthy splash to get things moving. Sure enough, that cracked it, so this is definitely an add-water cask strength whiskey.
That done, the nose is strong on the wood, but I found it more cedar and pine than oak. That said, plenty of the sweet side of the oak is there, thick with vanilla and caramel, with a little wood spice-driven cinnamon and dryness. Even before the water was put in, the vapor wasn’t actually all that hot, and the character of the scent is fundamentally heavy and weighty. It’s almost as if it’s so thick that it traps the alcohol and keeps it from rising up to your nose.
The flavor here follows in that same vein. It’s not big, out-sized and ballsy the way so many cask strength American whiskeys tend to be. Instead, it’s strength is in it’s weight, like an incredibly thick, salt-less caramel candy. The oak is a bit more prevalent here, laying on heavy with the brown sugar and the vanilla, but also with that drier, oak-driven spiciness. It’s a little hot, but with the water not unduly so. The finish is straightforward enough, leaving a lingering coat of vanilla and plenty of easy warmth.
Expect to pay $65 a bottle for Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A117, but don’t be surprised if you see it marked up to $75 and perhaps even higher.